J(ohn) Presper, Jr. Eckert Biography (1913-1995)


Presper Eckert, with John Mauchly , designed and built several significant computers in the 1940s-- ENIAC, EDVAC, BINAC , and UNIVAC. Eckert was born in Philadelphia, where his father was a real estate developer. He received a B.S.in 1941 and an M.S. in 1943 from the University of Pennsylvania 's Moore School of Electrical Engineering. Eckert began working with Mauchly, a faculty member, because they were both interested in electronic computer design. WorldWar II was in progress, and the university had a United States Army contractto develop a calculating machine known as ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer). Eckert and Mauchly designed and patented ENIAC. It was much faster than earlier computers and featured electronic processing with vacuum tubes. However, it used punched cards for the program and intermediate processing results, which greatly slowed its speed. Also, each processing sequence had to be set up by hand. The school's next computer was EDVAC (ElectronicDiscrete Variable Automatic Computer), a computer milestone, featuring a stored program in which the program and data are both in the computer's memory and treated alike. Eckert and Mauchly designed the memory, which used mercury-filled delay lines to retain the incoming electronic signal as a much slowersound wave. In 1948, the University wanted control of all patents for equipment produced by its faculty. Eckert and Mauchly resigned and formed their ownfirm, the Electronic Control Company, to produce stored-program computers based on the patents. BINAC (BINary Automatic Computer), a fast and relatively small computer to be used on a guided missile, was their first computer, in 1949. It was the first computer to use magnetic tape for input and output, andfeatured two processing units that performed the same calculations for accuracy. At the same time, Eckert and Mauchly were building the much larger UNIVAC(UNIVersal Automatic Computer), which they completed in 1950. It was the first widely-available commercial computer to use stored programs. After financial losses in 1950, Eckert and Mauchly sold their company and patents to the typewriter and calculator manufacturer Remington Rand. Eckert remained with Remington Rand to continue development of UNIVAC, eventually becoming a vice-president of the successor company, Sperry Univac. During the 1960s, Eckert andMauchly were sued by the computer manufacturer Honeywell and John Atanasoff,a physics professor at Iowa State University. They claimed that the patentswere based on Atanasoff's A-B-C computer, which he had demonstrated for Mauchly in 1941, before ENIAC was built. Eckert and Mauchly maintained that much of their design work was completed before Mauchly met Atanasoff, and that thetwo machines were different. However, in 1973, the judge ruled in Atanasoff'sfavor, declaring Eckert and Mauchly's patents invalid.

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